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Giants at Vikings, Week 16: When New York has the ball

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It's Christmas, but football never stops.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a tough week for the New York Giants. Their star receiver is suspended, they're all but out of the NFC East divisional chase, and they now have to take on a Minnesota Vikings team with everything to play for. I wouldn't want to be a Giants fan this week. Oh. Wait. Damn.

Stats At A Glance

Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards Total Points
Giants Offense 93.6 (24th) 270.1 (6th) 363.6 (12th) 26.6 (6th)
Vikings Defense 112.9 (20th) 229.5 (7th) 342.4 (13th) 19.4 (8th)

Quarterback

This is going to be a tough week for Eli Manning. He gets to throw passes to an unwieldy group of receivers covered by All-Pro caliber defenders. You want to throw deep? Better make sure it's not at Harrison Smith. Alright, so let's go quick slants. Oh, then you have to deal with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. Screw it, just throw it to the tight end. Damn it, there's Anthony Barr. There really isn't a favorable match-up here for Manning to exploit.

The problem here is that whenever Manning has gone against top defenses before, he at least had some weapons on offer. This is about as depleted a roster as Manning has ever had to work with, and we have seen before what happens when the Giants stretch their quarterback too thin. This has "Bad Eli" game written all over it, and yet I won't place an ounce of blame on him. It's a bad situation for an already bad team.

I haven't mentioned it all year, because it hasn't been relevant, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a good deal of Ryan Nassib if the Giants are truly out of contention by the third quarter. It would be nice to see a little of what he's capable of before heading into next season, and this may be the best opportunity for that as next week's game is against the Philadelphia Eagles. Regardless of the playoff situation, the Giants will want to fight, so Nassib against a top-flight defense would be the ideal scenario for analyzing a young QB heading into the final year of his contract. A good game would generate whispers and trade rumors.

Offensive line

I wish we got to see Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg alongside other exceptional linemen. We have seen some extraordinary things from this pair all year, yet something tells me that we haven't seen their maximum performance because of the liabilities elsewhere in the position group. Ereck Flowers may be good someday, and he better be because he was a first-round pick, but right now, he's still struggling. Whether it's the rookie learning curve or nagging injuries, he's been held back in his fledgling year. Add to this, the combination of Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry and the line looks very different to the pristine ideals of preseason hope.

How will they perform against the Vikings front? I think it will be a good balance of strengths and weaknesses. If Minnesota has Linval Joseph on hand, the battle between him and Pugh will be glorious, but even without him, they should have enough to get pressure on the quarterback. Pressures aren't sacks though, and the combination of game plan, scheme and quarterback have given this unit a huge boost in certain games this year. The tackles have to hold off Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter just long enough for the ball to come out.

In the running game, I'm not expecting a repeat performance from last week. The Giants finally figured out that it's better to rush behind their hefty left side rather than their weak right. It worked out well, and the strategy should be emulated here, but given that Sunday was the first time a Big Blue running back tallied more than 100 yards on the ground, it would be a big ask to make that happen in back-to-back weeks.

Skill positions

This will be the game that serves as the catalyst for a decision on whether or not to re-sign Rueben Randle. Odell Beckham's suspension was upheld after an appeal, so all eyes will turn to the other LSU receiver as he serves as the Giants No.1 wide-out against the Vikings. Which Randle are we going to see? Will it be the sloppy, half-hearted guy with rounded route-running, or will it be the promising young talent with a knack for getting open? I'm guessing it will probably be a little of both. Even in his best games, Randle has been inconsistent, so given that this is a late-season, late-night game with a strong possibility of bracket-coverage, it wouldn't surprise me to see Randle flash at opportune moments, but maybe give up by half-time if things aren't going his way.

But what other options do the Giants have? Ben Edwards was signed from the practice squad to take Beckham's spot, though it sounds like a shoulder injury may also keep Dwayne Harris from playing. That leaves former-superstar-turned-journeyman Hakeem Nicks, fifth-round rookie Geremy Davis and Myles "Who?" White on clean-up duty. This is like a preseason game. Remind me again why this was bumped to prime time?

I suspect that Ben McAdoo will have implemented all sorts of check-down combinations for the tight ends and running backs so expect to see a lot of five-yard gains by Will Tye, Jerome Cunningham and Shane Vereen. Both positions should act as safety valves as the receiving corps attempt the impossible task of beating that secondary.

One added nugget for this game will be how the Giants cope without a fullback. I don't remember the last time a Tom Coughlin team didn't carry one on the roster, and we know that McAdoo's offense doesn't necessarily need one because of how the tight ends work with pre-snap movement, so either Tye or Cunningham could earn some extra playing time in the final game if they impress Coughlin with lead-blocking success.

Final thoughts

There are too many areas for this offense to go wrong for everything to go right. It's Week 16, the Giants are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and the roster is decimated. I'm not blaming anyone if this isn't a close one. The Giants gave it their all against an undefeated team last week and came up just short. They burned out flying too close to the sun, and that's alright. It's just what happens around this time of year.

The reason to watch this game will be to see which depth players may step up in the face of insurmountable adversity. This is Nicks' time to shine. This is where Randle could make a hell of a lot of money. Could the Giants trade Nassib this off-season? This is why to watch. Don't pin your hopes on the starters to pull out a win, because anything resembling a one-score game would be a Christmas miracle right about now. Instead, get excited for next year. Look for the sparks, the distant stars, the touch of magic from a practice squad player just happy to make it on the field.